Monday, April 30, 2012

Advocating For Your Child

Oh, I hate when I've been doing battle and I have the same old stuff to tell you.  I've been fighting with the staff at Nick's school again.

I'll just tell you that the people at that school are going to have a fatality on their hands someday soon.  Some kid who's allergic is going to fall down dead because of what they're not willing to do and I'm telling you right now that is not going to be my child.  They might not like me very much right now, but that's just too damn bad.  I read a saying that went,"Other people's opinion of you is none of your business."  That helps.  What's hard is when they don't hide their scorn.  There you go.  I told you. 

I'm exhausted from this battle, but I won't back down.  There is no way for me to back off that is safe for my son, so I won't back down.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Butterfly's Wings

The weekend was just too short.  We came home late tonight after having dinner with friends.  I'm grateful I have such good friends.  I don't always get to see them as often as I like, but I have to tell you I have interesting friends.  Sometimes I imagine them talking to each other, finding that they have more than just me in common.  Some are artists.  Some are geeks.  Some are introspective, touching on philosophy and ethics.  Most of them read quite a bit.

I made an apple pie today and brought it over for dessert.  The problem I had was that I started too late and then I needed to put it in the oven when we arrived.  You can do that at a good friend's house.  Then, I didn't bring the cookie sheet into the house and the thing bubbled over in the bottom of her oven.  Oh, that was embarrassing.  I made a sticky mess in my friend's oven.  It's a good thing she's so laid back.

I ate too many carbs and my brain has turned to mush.  I can feel the sugars throbbing behind my eyes.  It was okay while we were all still talking, but I can feel it now, like one glass of wine too many.  You don't realize it until it's too late how it's going to make you feel.   

We even brought our dog over, so the dogs could play.  It was fun standing outside in the yard, watching the dogs dodge back and forth.  How did I get so lucky as to have a friend who says I should bring my dog over to play?  Teddy is sacked out on the living room floor.  He didn't even make it to his bed. 

The rest of the weekend was sucked up working with Nick on a math project for school.  I made a bunch of extra pie crusts and froze them.  I would have made a pie for Nick and Mike, but they wanted pumpkin and it never made it to the list when we used the last can of pumpkin.  Tomorrow maybe. 

Okay, so can you see that my brain has turned to mush?  I'm not going to even try to tell you a story tonight.  I'm going to ramble on and nothing's going to come up. 

See, I can't even tell you what we sat and laughed about tonight.  We talked about our dogs.  We laughed about that a lot, putting words in their mouths.  I told them the story of when I skidded on the ice in front of a semi truck and hit the guardrail going 60 miles per hour and lived.  Shoot, I wasn't even scratched.  That guardrail I hit was bent at least eleven inches in from where it had been.  I remembered seeing the words 'Peterbilt' in my passenger-side window as I skidded.  Thanks to the inventor of the guardrail, I didn't roll down the hill.  I didn't come to a stop on the railroad tracks that guided a train at 40 to 50 miles per hour past while I stood above, next to my sweet guardrail, counting my lucky stars.  That was a good night.  I felt high that night, high on adrenaline, happy to have survived.

I believe in fate somehow.  Why isn't it fate when seriously bad things happen and I come through it?  Why is it only fate when something good happens?  Hmmm.

So maybe it was fate that my pie bubbled over in my friend's oven tonight.  Why aren't trivial things fate as well?  Well, the chaos theory says that a butterfly's wings could be the trivial movement that starts a hurricane on the other side of the world.

My world is a good example of the chaos theory, but I'll be damned if I can explain it to you.  I keep trying, but I'll never capture that butterfly. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Scare Tactics

I ran into a woman I knew only by sight at the little market in town this evening.  I had stopped in for ground beef for dinner and milk.  We always need milk.   I didn't really know this woman's name, but I knew her friendly face from Nick's elementary school, though I hadn't seen her much recently.  I needed little excuse to talk, so I asked how she was doing.  I was glad to get the long answer from her instead of a simple 'Oh, I'm fine.' 

I have to tell you that I have never agreed with the common habit people have of asking, 'How are you?' then saying, 'Oh, I'm fine' and going on their merry way, none the wiser about each other's true state of being.  She was honest about not having the best day and so I got to talking a little about how Nick was working to catch up on math his teacher hadn't clearly assigned to the class until late in the school year.  She said her son was having the opposite problem, that his math teacher was leaving him bored and frustrated because she was working so slowly through the book and this teacher didn't have any tools in her pocket for challenging and rewarding the more advanced students.  I could almost picture her boy, but not quite. 

Then I told her I'd had some frustrations about Nick's upcoming fifth-grade camp.  She told me she'd had problems with when her son went too, telling me about how the high school counselors pretended that one of the staff had been abducted after telling the kids stories about an axe murderer loose in the woods.  It left a whole cabin full of kids crying.  What? 

This woman, who's name I still didn't know, mind you, told me about how she left the Principal's office in tears because she didn't think it was right and she didn't think he was going to do anything about changing it. 

"That sounds like bullying to me," I said.

"You're right," she said. "They thought it was funny to scare the little kids that way, like a rite of passage."  People have always tried to promote hazing as a rite of passage.  Personally, I'm against that sort of thing.  Kids have enough trouble growing up without being put through the mill unnecessarily.  Do you remember getting a whack on your butt for every year old you were on your birthday? Yes, I am that old.  Sometimes, you got that many whacks from each person you invited to your party.  I'm not sure if the hazing at fraternities and sororities continues.  I imagine it does.  What about getting pinched if you didn't wear green on St. Patrick's Day?  I remember coming home with little bruises all over my arms from forgetting just once.  I never forgot to wear green for St. Patrick's again.  Was it really so important for me to remember?  No.  It was just an excuse to hurt someone.  I still know people who will lean over and punch the next person in the arm when they see a VW bug, a 'slug bug.'  What stupid traditions those were. 

Oh, I believe in rites of passage.  Getting your driver's license is a good one, as are your first shave, the prom, going off to college, and getting a car or your own apartment.  I just don't believe that you have to down a whole bottle of whiskey in one breath in order to prove you're a manly man. 

I listened to this woman talk about how she decided to tell every mother she knew about this tactic at fifth-grade camp so that more of the campers could be prepared. I told her I'd put it on my Facebook status.

"If I tell eight mothers and you tell eight mothers and each of them tell eight mothers, ..." she said.  I liked her plan. 

"Then maybe we can warn the entire fifth-grade and some moms in the fourth grade too," I said.  We both laughed. 

"Then I want you to friend me on Facebook so I can follow this," she said.  Oh no!  I didn't know her name.  I admitted my total ignorance and she told me, not looking the least bit offended.  It was actually a very cool moment.  Her son was in Cub Scouts when Nick was younger.  Oh, I knew her son and her husband too.  No wonder I could almost picture the boy when she'd talked about his difficulties with his teacher.  It was a really nice moment, being able to connect two people into one family in my community of people. 

Now I'm Facebook friends with my newish friend and I've thrown out the question of this scare-tactic at camp.  Already, I've gotten one comment from a mom about how inappropriate that would be considering the fact that, until this afternoon, there was a murderer hiding out in the woods nearby.  Remember the murderer in the bunker by Rattlesnake Lake?  Well, I wonder if we could teach our kids to set up tiger traps along the paths to their cabins at camp?

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tiger Trap

There's a murderer in the woods by Rattlesnake Lake.  He's set up a bunker there and the police have the whole area cordoned off until they rout him out.  They have also said that he might have set up booby traps near there.  This man killed his wife and daughter and then set his house on fire.  It's horrible to think what would make a man do something so evil.  I don't think he's even in there any more.   Mike said he thinks that he is, that the police saw some movement and smelled the smoke of his fire.  Nick is trying to figure out how to protect us should we need it.  I'm glad he didn't get too worried about the whole thing.

Nick's Boy Scout troop was supposed to take a hike tomorrow and it had to be canceled because we'd planned to follow the old railroad grade up there.  The whole place is probably going to be closed off.  It's about a twenty minute drive away.  I have to tell you that it's strange living even that close.  This afternoon, Nick asked his friend Jack to come over to play.  I was reading about all of this trouble on Facebook, about how the daughter had gone to the local high school and how my friends who live closer to the area than I do are worried about their safety.  I watched the boys through the window, holding back my impulse to gather them up, bring them inside, lock the doors, and lower the shades. 

When I was a kid, there was a rumor that an escaped convict tried to hide out in the old Boy Scout woods behind the houses on our street.  Oh, our parents kept us inside for a while, but let us go back out as soon as they got the all-clear or we drove them crazy, I'm not sure which.  When we gathered out there, we had a powwow.  We were going to stick together.  No one walked alone, but we didn't abandon our woods either.  This place was ours

I remember how spooked I was, but instead of worrying or staying away, we built a tiger trap.  It took all afternoon, but we dug a hole about five feet square and three or four feet deep.  Corky pointed out that it wasn't deep enough to keep the convict in if he dropped into it, but Ritchie said that he'd at least break his leg and then we could whack him over the head and tie him up.  God save the poor man who came aimlessly wandering through after that.  We carefully covered the hole with deadfall that wouldn't support the weight of a man and covered that with leaves and brush.  We had positioned this tiger trap in the middle of the main path.  When we were done, we set snares by pulling small trees over and attaching them to loops staked loosely to the ground.  They weren't big enough to hold a man, but we figured they might startle him and make him fall into our tiger trap if they snapped upright.  I remember how we thought we were so smart, but the effect probably wasn't subtle.  When we couldn't think of any more damage to do to our aimless wanderer/escaped convict, we climbed the trees and took turns at the watch, never leaving anyone out there alone.

I imagine I was such a chatterbox that when Corky and I were on patrol, no man would come within earshot for fear of being killed by a million little-girl questions.  Just what did we talk about back then?  I have no idea.  Remember, I have boys.  I do remember staging about a thousand princess weddings, but I also climbed trees and dug in the mud for fossils.  I found some good ones too.  I'd read about Heinrich Schliemann, an amateur archaeologist who found the Mask of Agamemnon at the site he believed was Troy.  Oh, I wanted to find something in my woods, bones or gold or buried treasure.  I honestly convinced myself and Corky that this convict was retrieving his cache.  There was treasure to be found.

After that, the tiger trap wasn't the only hole we dug in our woods.  We never caught the convict.  In fact, we were lucky, but no one else ever dropped into our tiger trap, though we all got adept leaping across that part of the trail.  No parent ever told us to fill it in or that it was a hazard.  It made us feel safe in those woods.  We could protect ourselves.  I imagined myself being chased by the convict and the way I'd lead him right over that trap where I figured he'd at least break an ankle and I could call the police and become a hero. Then, in the moments before the police came, he'd confess through tears and tell me the secret of where he'd hidden the body and his millions. 

Not surprisingly, we never did find bones or a cache either, despite our multitude of holes.  But, one day, Corky and I did find something.

It was about the size of one of our knobby knees.  We were just sure it was a bone of someone long dead or better yet, a dinosaur bone.  We spent an hour or two with an old toothbrush, cleaning it up.  As we worked, the rock's story grew more and more grand.  When we showed it to Corky's big sister, she laughed at our theories, telling us it was just some old dumb rock.  We were crushed, but I went home with the thing anyway.  It was my old bone and I wanted to find out more about it.  So one day after piano lessons, I walked up to the Geology department at the university with my rock in my pocket.  I showed it to a very nice man that I found there.  He told me that fortunately, it wasn't a bone, and no, it wasn't a dinosaur bone either, but that it was just about the biggest piece of fossilized coral he had ever seen.  Then he gently sent me home with it, telling me to keep up the good work and thanking me for showing him my find.

They never did find the convict in our woods.  If they had found him there, he'd have been trussed up, gagged, whacked on the head, and in the bottom of a shallow tiger trap.  Lucky for him.  I'm not sure the Rattlesnake Lake fugitive is going to be so lucky.  He'd better watch out for the kids that live up in those woods.  They're probably planning their tiger traps as we speak.

Thank you for listening, jb

Why Art?

I don't want to write about IXL, or Scrabble, or walking dogs, or fifth-grade camp, or the scary book I'm listening to.  What does that leave me with? 

I want to talk about art.  Why art, you might ask?

I'm not sure. 

I need art.  For some reason, I've come to a place in my life where I need art to be happy.  Comicon made me happy for a few days because of all the artists there, doing their work out in the open.  Hadn't they listened to their mothers asking them, "And just how are you going to earn a living as an artist?"  Oh thank God for the mothers who didn't say that to their children.

What value is art to our society?  I can't even answer that question for myself, yet I get to a point, like this one, and I know I need it. I need it badly.

The other day, Nick came home with a cartoon he'd drawn.  It was only a cartoon, yet it made me happy.  I should be able to put this into words.  Oh, I don't look forward to the day when Nick comes home and says he's reserved a booth at Comicon and hopes he can make his money back.  I want him to be able to afford a reliable car and feed his wife and child when it comes to that.  Yet, I want him to be happy as well, not sacrificing his freedom and creativity to the corporate machine.  Can you have both?  I don't know. 

I don't have to worry about that too much yet because he's only eleven after all.  Still, he came home with a permission slip to take a test for advance placement in math and the sheet of paper delineated his entire course of math throughout high school.  Oh man.  It just makes me tired, all that grappling for position, to get into the right college, to get a paying summer job, to get the 'real' job.  Do I really have to worry about that in grade school?  Crap, his preschool teacher would have had me worrying about it when he was four if I'd let her. And I did let her, for a while, until sanity took over.

Why art?  I need play time.  Nick needs play time.  For me, play time involves books, art, and being outside.  I've had plenty of time outside lately, walking the dog, and I'm winnowing down the stacks of unread books on my bookshelves and bringing home more books from the library.  But I haven't had much art lately.  I've stopped even seeing the Ansel Adams print of half-dome in Yosemite that's hung in my living room.  I barely notice the Andrew Wyeth print of the white dog on the bed in our bedroom, 'Master Bedroom.'  I love that print.  I'm not getting a lot of new input when it comes to art.  I'd like to have a ready answer for anyone who asks why I need it, but I just know I do. 

Since Nick's tree-nut allergy is dangerous enough, we don't keep nuts in our house.  Occasionally, if I'm not going to see Nick for a few hours, I'll order a salad with almonds or walnuts in it.  Whole Foods has an amazing salad that has cranberries, walnuts, bleu cheese, and balsamic vinegar dressing.  Sure, I used to like eating nuts, but now, I get a deep craving for them after a time.  There is some ingredient in nuts that my body needs, desperately.  It's like that with art for me too.  I can go for a long time without feeding myself, but the craving builds and suddenly, I realize that I'm absolutely wilting without this form of nutrition.

I am an under-achiever when it comes to art, but I love looking at it, touching it if that's allowed, finding it in unusual places. Have you ever been to Gasworks Park in Seattle? That place, though it was originally a 'gasification' plant, is full of art!  Still, I keep trying, drawing portraits, carving wood, piecing quilts, taking awful photos.

I want to carve a walking stick.  We had a lot of trees come down in our yard during the ice storm back in the winter.  A half a dozen walking sticks lean against Nick' play fort.  I want the time to sit and carve curlicues and labyrinthine patterns into a stick.  It's beautiful in my head.  They always are.  My drawings are more beautiful in my head too.  My photos are mostly pathetic.
I used to know a guy named Stewart who would say something absolutely ridiculous over dinner and after some silence, would announce, "Well, it was funny in my head."  I miss Stewart.  I lost touch with him when I moved west.  Stewart was a good guy and a genius at his job, putting music to the plays of his favorite baseball team, the Yankees.  It was absolute poetry.  Art.

There I go again. It always made me happy to know that Stewart made a living playing with music and clips of amazing baseball plays. 

I still can't tell you why I need art.  I wish I could.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Whatever Happened?

I don't like strange.  I'm still listening to the 29 disk book on tape that scares the bejeesus out of me.  It is so well written, but the setting and the characters are strange.  Tonight, I had to turn it off in the car about a mile from home in an attempt at distracting myself and after listening to classical music for a bit, eerie classical music, I decided I'd have to get out of the car and go into the house anyway.  Okay, I admit - I'm afraid of the dark now that I've been listening to this audio book.  Is that lame or what?

The book is 'The Passage' by Justin Cronin.  I'm up to disk 23.  Did you remember that I said I was listening to it?  Well, I had mentioned that my goal for anything scary is to finish it quickly so I feel the resolution and that helps.  This is hard.  It's twenty-nine disks long!  Plus, there's another huge sequel in 'The Twelve' not to mention the third in the trilogy, 'The City of Mirrors,' that comes out in 2014!  Do I have to get through those too?  I think I may have to.  The characters are there, speaking in my imagination, just like ....

No!  I can't tell you the story!  I hate when people tell the whole story and why the heck should I bother after that?  So I'm not going to throw out any spoilers.  It's just that I like these characters, most of them, and the author, adept at manipulating characters, has me understanding, though not exactly liking, the seriously bad guy.  It's a real feat to give evil a sympathetic history. 

The other thing I like about Cronin's writing is that the other characters are drawn in my head, as if I could identify them in a lineup.  The problem with this kind of good writing is that when the movie comes out, I'm going to be annoyed at having to look at 'Amy' who is most definitely not the 'Amy' that I imagined.  Doesn't that just piss you off?  You know, I don't think I'll be able to go to this movie.  The director and screenwriters will amp up the suspense and gore and it'll be over the top for me, out of bounds.  The author, whether or not he intends this, has not creeped me beyond my tolerance.  Years ago, I had to stop reading Stephen King because he picked at every thread of fear in my closet.  I just had to stop, he was that good at making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.  At least in Cronin's story, there's some routine to battling these creatures. 

Do you want to know something really strange?  Over the weekend, I hung out at the campsite quite a bit where Nick and Mike were on a Boy Scout camp out.  No, that's not the strange thing.  The strange thing is that at camp, I wandered around after dark with my flash light off.  I didn't feel the need for it, really.  Shoot, this camp had too many lights as it was and you just didn't need one.  I felt no fear, looking out into the darkness.  It was soothing, especially since it was such a starry night.  Yet, when there are doors and windows involved, not just tents staked out in the woods, I can become afraid.  What is that?  Why would it be more frightening to be at home than it would to be surrounded by the dark of the woods with just a layer of nylon ripstop to protect me?

I have found that having my dorky dog with me helps too.  I figure he's not going to be much of a defender since he cowers when the clawless cat swats him about the head and shoulders, but he's got a good thick suit of fur that can stand straight up if he's frightened.  That helps, though I'm not sure he'd be smart enough to be frightened by any person, no matter how evil.  He LOVES people.  Well, crap.  What he'd be afraid of, bears and coyotes, don't bother me so much so long as I'm not being stupid, like trying to feed their offspring.

Here's the last thing I'm going to say about this book right now.  I keep wondering how they're going to get out of the next level of problems.  Cronin has done a pretty good job of describing a post-apocalyptic nation, down to the batteries and relays in a circuit.  I like when an author does his (or her) homework.  Did I ever tell you that I stopped reading an author because she didn't know the difference between a revolver and a semi-automatic?  I mean really, if you're going to have someone using a gun, you'd better know what it looks like to load it.  This author also screwed up the difference between playing blackjack in Vegas and in Atlantic City.  In Atlantic City, they never let you touch the cards.  Cronin isn't making these kind of mistakes, though I'm not really an expert at what a hundred-year-old battery would do.  So, instead of questioning the facts that he's laid out before me, I get to focus on what's going to happen next, and more than once, I've been surprised.  After reading roughly 2000 books, that isn't easy to do.  Oh, I don't know if I've got an accurate count here, but I figure I've read at least a book a week for about 40 years.  Sometimes I wish I'd kept track the way some people do.  Seems too late to start now. 

So I'm going to go to bed now, where it's kind of dark, but I know the shades are drawn.  I'm trying not to think about this book, but whenever you tell yourself not to think of something, there it is like the rain on your head because you've forgotten your rain jacket.  I wonder if I'll need to leave a light on.  Pathetic, isn't it?

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Planets and Moons

On Saturday night, one of the dads brought a telescope up to Nick's first Boy Scout camp out.  It was a beautiful clear night and, in the valley where the camp was situated, there weren't many lights interfering with stargazing.  I kept getting dizzy looking up and around and I should have gotten the blankets from the car, one for underneath and one for over me.  It was cold out.

The planets were stealing the stargazing show last night.  Venus rose first, a bright beam at dusk while the rest of the stars were still just pinpricks of light.  Just last Tuesday, Venus passed in front of the sun.  That same path, last taken in 1882, had allowed astronomers then to measure the Earth's distance from the sun.  The view from NASA's TRACE spacecraft shows it as a small dot in the large disk of the sun, like a mole on the cheek of a beautiful girl.  Then our telescope host pointed out Mars which actually appears red to the naked eye.  He had the scope aimed there and I could see two tiny dots under it, its two moons, Phobos and Deimos, which were originally discovered by Asaph Hall in 1877.  The Internet shows these two moons as lumpy little things compared to the perfect sphere of our own moon.  I couldn't imagine looking into the sky with two lumpy moons shining down on me.  Our own moon was dark last night, a new moon, not even a silver sliver of light.

Nick wanted to see Mars, so I traipsed off to get the cooler out of the truck so he'd have something to stand on to look through the eye-piece.  It won't be long before he'll be leaning down for such things, including giving me a hug.  He was really affectionate last night.  I'm glad it doesn't yet embarrass him to hug his mom in front of his friends.  I tried to get my phone app to work to show me the names of other stars, but it was useless.  I had tried to use it a couple of times recently and it failed utterly.  While Nick looked at Mars, a couple of us talked about how easy it is to get information about celestial events these days.  Just a click away, even on a starlit night in the dark valley where we camped.  The cold finally won out over my curiosity and I wandered back to the fire.  If I'd waited long enough, Jupiter was supposed to rise, but I needed to put on another layer of clothes before I said my goodnights. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Affair Your Minister's Wife Had With Her Dog Trainer

I don't have anything to say today.  I was uberbusy.  It was nice walking with Rachel and her dog, but should I keep doing this when I'm already behind?  Yes.  I need the walks.  I need the conversation.  I haven't been bored lately, though I'm trying to catch up with almost everything.  Walking the dog takes time.  Well, I've needed to take this time.  I need the exercise.  Yesterday, I walked five miles with Teddy and RunKeeper said I burned 1130 calories.  Wow, that's half the calories I should be eating for one day.  Here's what you should know - I don't, I won't count calories.  I might keep track of carbohydrates on a good day.  The exercise is supposed to even out my sugar levels.  I haven't been able to feel a distinct difference, but it definitely has a good effect on my mood.  But maybe that's Rachel though.  She's funny.  Even when she's aggravated about something, she's funny.  Today, we were talking about how drugs are a deal-breaker, how we don't want our kids around anyone involved in drugs. 

So here's another thing you should know about me.  I love gossip.  I really do.  I try not to love gossip, but I can't help myself.  I've set up some rules so that I can gossip comfortably and others so that I can listen to gossip eagerly. 

I don't want you to tell me that the dad who volunteers in Nick's classroom has tried to seduce another mom that I know.  I don't want to hear anything juicy about someone I know that you heard from someone else's lips, anything that's really conjecture.  I don't want to hear anything, not one word that isn't nice, about a kid, especially a kid I know.  It's hard enough for kids, let alone if some parent is looking askance at them about something they might not even have done. Will I change my mind about that when they all get to be teenagers?  I doubt it.  I want to make up my own mind about Nick's friends and his enemies.  We'll see if I can stay true to that one.  I hope so.  It's hard for kids.

On the flip side, I'll tell you dirt about my friend and her lover if I suspect that you'll never meet her.  Old stories are perfect gossip.  They grow in stature and extravagance and who's to say where those people are now? I might tell you something about my family, but I try not to enact revenge on them, even from a distance.  I swear that my poor sister can sense if I've been saying anything bad about anyone in my family.  She really can.  And I think it hurts too.  The bad news about you is that I might write about you.  I write about everyone I know.  I just don't publish much. 

I do want to hear about your in-laws, your cousins, your best friend's dog's trainer. These people are like characters in a story. There's an element of fiction to them. I want to hear about how you stood your ground to protect your kids against drug users or dogs that bite. I want to hear about your minister's wife. I really do. And if I don't know these people, sex, drugs, alcohol, and dangerous liaisons are all very interesting. Just as long as I don't have to sit across a table from them while I help some kid learn his multiplication tables. It is so uncomfortable when good stories get interrupted by reality. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I can see the boys playing outside in the driveway.  I like watching them when they aren't thinking about me watching.  Watching people is interesting, but it isn't staring when they're your own.  (Yes, I count Adrian as my own, loaned maybe, but my own.)  Think of the hours I've spent staring at those faces?  I can't even figure how many hours it would be.

I like to calculate things.  My favorite app right now, RunKeeper, told me that I walked 5.13 miles with Teddy today.  The only drawback to it is when I forget to turn it on at the beginning of a walk or off at the end and that's just user error.  To tell you the truth, I'd like to see my weekly totals for walking and my all-time distance.  Why? 

Remember that I said I like to calculate things?  So, if I used to walk with Indiana at least two hours a day three times a week, I could use RunKeeper to guess how much I walked during her fifteen year life.  Today, I walked about five miles in two and a half hours.  I kept getting waylaid by chatty people.  So if you extrapolate that and say that I might have walked about twelve miles a week with her on the conservative side, that could add up to 6,000 miles if I give myself a two week vacation every year and just count her productive years before she turned eleven.  That's a lot of miles!  Does Google Earth show distances?  No, but Google Maps does.  It's 3,160 miles to Portland, Maine.  So with Indiana, I could have walked to Maine and almost all the way home during her lifetime.  That's pretty good.

I want to walk around the world by the time I'm done, figuratively at least.  How far is that?  Google says that it's 24,900 miles.  I'd only have to have two other dogs that need walking after Teddy and I walk to Portland, Maine and back during his lifetime.  I don't think I'm going to make that.  Bummer!

When I was potty training Nick, I calculated that if I changed his diaper just half of the time (conservatively), I changed about 5,000 diapers.  That figure has stayed in my mind all these years.  Every single parent that is shouldering his or her load has changed five thousand diapers!  Can you picture that?  In just one small town, that's a BIG pile of diapers.  No wonder we should be using those diaper services!

There are all kinds of things I'd like to know:

What percentage of my time do I spend in my car?

How many decaf mochas will I drink using my new Krups espresso machine?  Did you ever figure those things?  When I made my first quilt on my new sewing machine, it was a $1500 quilt.  Now that I've made about 20 quilts using it, my machine only adds about $75 to the cost of each quilt.  That doesn't include all the costumes and hems I've used it for as well  Besides, my sewing machine is still humming along so that number just keeps going down and down. 

After I've spent $130 on that well-made pair of shoes that might last for eight years, how does it compare to buying the $27 pair that wore out after a couple of seasons?  No contest.  As with furniture, I buy the most expensive shoes I can afford.  Okay, I don't buy designer shoes.  That would mess up the calculation. 

How many strawberries have I eaten?

How many years have I slept?  I'd like to add some time to that total. 

How much will I pay for my house once I'm done paying for my house?  On second thought, I may not want to know the answer to that.  I did that once, figured out how much I paid for the silk sweater I loved that was half price.  Then I added in the floating interest from my credit card at 17%. I had paid 175% of the original price of that sweater.  That was when I decided to pay off my credit cards each month, twenty-eight years ago.  Think of how much money I've saved on sweaters since then!

How many peanut butter sandwiches will I make?

How many times will I hear, "Hey Mom, watch this!"

How many times will I listen for the bus on the road? 

How many hugs and kisses have I given?  I'll never know, but it's something of an investment isn't it? 

Thank you for listening, jb 

Beans, Books, and Motor Boats

I made ham and navy bean soup today.  It's been quite a few years since I made bean soup.  Usually, I get that bag of mixed dried beans and use the little spice packet that's in it.  To be honest, I can't stand those beans after the first meal.  What I really want is navy beans.

My grandma used to make navy beans and ham for dinner pretty often.  She could make amazing raisin pie, but generally, she didn't like to cook.  I think she got too hungry while she was cooking to have much patience for it.  She was very good at making navy bean soup though.  Here's why:  there are only four ingredients, navy beans, onion, tomato sauce, and ham.  Okay, I put a couple of extra ingredients in my soup, a bay leaf and marjoram.  Another reason my grandma liked making navy beans is that they can cook for an hour too long and never get ruined.  Long before my beans were done cooking, they smelled perfect.

Of all my senses, smell is most closely linked to my memories.  Just give me the faint smell of gasoline in a breeze and I'm out in the back of the ski boat waiting for my turn to ski.  Jergen's lotion reminds me of my other grandma, the person who loved the child I was better than anyone else did.  I'm tempted to keep a bottle of that stuff around just for the comfort of it.  I could name a smell or combination of smells for every single one of them, the people I've loved who have died, and their faces and most likely the sound of their laughter would pop up into my thoughts.

The smell of navy beans and ham reminds me of my grandpa.  It really should remind me of my grandma, the one who made it, but it doesn't.  My grandpa used to say that if he had to pick one thing to eat every day for the rest of his life, it would be navy beans.  He was usually in an easy chair next to the bar in the kitchen when he said that. My grandpa liked to talk and that was the place where people were most likely to congregate, in the kitchen.  My kitchen doesn't even have a chair and people end up leaning on the silverware drawer.  Then, they have to move too often for me to get anything done.  A good kitchen needs at least one comfortable chair.

I can remember Grandpa reading in his old chair.  When he wasn't talking or tinkering, Grandpa was always reading.  That man hadn't even graduated from high school, but he could have taught college level courses in history and rhetoric.  He read everything he could get his big bony hands on. One of the things I learned from my grandpa is that a person can educate himself if he reads enough.

One time, I can remember him coming home, the screen door slapping behind him as he walked in and lowered himself into his chair.  Grandpa was in a huff.  It was probably the only time I ever remembered him in a huff and we visited almost every other weekend and spent countless summer weeks camping with him

"Land sakes, where you been, Rex?" Grandma said.

"Well, I had to drive all the way over to Bloomsburg to the library.  Took me an extry twenty minutes," he said.

"Well, why'd you go and do a thing like that?" she said.

"I couldn't find a single decent book at our library that I hain't already read."  Grandpa was a smart man, but he had a lot of common sense too and he knew that if he left behind the vernacular that people spoke, they wouldn't be so easy around him.  That was the way it was where I lived.  People assumed that if you changed around the local lingo, you were trying to act like you were better than everybody else.  My grandpa had a good vocabulary and he used it sometimes, but he didn't throw it around.  He did like to argue a point and discuss ethics as well.  I suppose he could have taught that too.  He sure taught me.

It's funny that there are things besides the beans and the books that I remember about my grandpa that don't connect to anything in particular.  His hair was cut in a flat-top that stood straight up, yet I remember being surprised, once, to find that it was as soft as the fur on a rabbit.  Even after it got wet, it seemed to stand straight up.  Maybe it was the way he brought his big hand up and over it when he was thinking about something, which was most of the time. 

He bought a ski boat instead of a fishing boat so that we'd all go out in it together.  It was a pretty tri-hull in bright yellow.  I can remember him standing in his gravel driveway, tuning up the motor, an Evinrude, and talking to my dad.

"Well, the weather's sure nice for being out."

"Might be a good time for some camping," my dad would say.  My dad always seemed to slow down and to become more patient when he was around my grandpa.  Grandpa had that effect on people. 

"Hadn't been a month or so since we've gone.  I could do with a little fishing," he'd say even though he'd probably gone fishing within the last week or so.

Grandpa was more of a fisherman, yet he learned to ski when he was sixty-five.  I can picture him out there, looking a little awkward but on his feet, stiff kneed, and looking like the slightest bump would knock him over.  I don't ever remember him falling.  It made me proud that he could learn a thing like that at about the same time we all did.  I think that was the thing I liked most about my grandpa - he was always thinking things through, learning what he could, and storing it away to talk about later.  It feels good to think about him, to remember all these little details, like how soft his hair was and how he looked on water skis.

Maybe I should make navy beans and ham more often. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Zero

This year, Nick has been using IXL, a math program the school bought to use for their kids.  It's a good program.  I have no problem with its methods.  A child can log into their work and see a list of units in their grade.  Shoot, Nick was trying out units from seventh grade for a while.  There are no internal limits set to that.  I told him that he needed to stick with fifth grade work since it was the foundation for seventh.  Mike told him to do whatever he wanted to do in the program since none of it had been assigned.  Math was math, he said.  We're both right. 

In September, Nick's teacher told the parents at a meeting that he'd asked the kids to do five minutes of IXL practice every night, but that we should let them succeed or fail on their own.  I thought that was a good idea and I let Nick handle it.  He was motivated for a while, but slowly let off from doing it at all.  When I'd ask him if he had any homework after school, he would happily say, "Nope!"  I loved seeing him have time to play and felt it was a good teacher who recognized this need in elementary school children.  For fourth grade, Nick had as much as two hours of homework each night, occasionally more.  I believed it was ridiculous, even deleterious to a child's development.  I was about to gather petitions and evidence in the forms of studies that had been made and wanted to bring my complaints to the school board.  When Nick's fifth grade teacher said he didn't believe in homework, I almost cheered out loud.  Kids need playtime, lots of playtime! They need to climb trees, explore in the woods, ride their bikes, hang around in groups, and even sit alone in the quiet sometimes.  Looking for four-leaf clovers and at cloud shapes in the sky are good for the imagination.

Still, I wanted Nick to be learning the important concepts he needed in math.  He's good at math.  He even likes math.  In January, when I realized that Nick wasn't going to pick up the mantle of responsibility, I asked him to do twenty minutes of math each night.  Putting that together with his nightly reading was still under an hour and still allowed him lots of time to play.  I could see on the list of units that he was making progress using IXL since I logged him in to get him started and see what was up.  When Nick is finished with a unit, it gives him a 100 next to the title so a quick scan shows how much progress has been made.  It also awards Nick little tiles that he was very proud of.  He'd occasionally have me come look at something new he'd done.  I felt kind of bad that I was undermining the teacher's request to have him motivate to do it on his own, but I tried not to worry about it too much.  Independence and time management come in stages. 

Well, in mid-January, Nick's teacher used him as an example of a kid who was making progress by being consistent with his IXL practice.  Nick was so happy that he was almost the only one who was doing it.  With that, the teacher said that the kids were now required to do ten minutes of work on the computer each night, that they weren't keeping up their end of the bargain.  Nick was very happy that he'd already been doing the work.  When he wanted to drop back to ten, I encouraged him to stick with twenty.  I told him to look at the list of units, that he needed to do most of them by the end of the summer.  I figured that we could sign him up if the school's membership dropped when school was out for the summer.  It would be worth it since math was getting more complex and I couldn't just give him the basic arithmetic to do along with making change at the toy store. 

Nick was just cruising along.  I could see the 100s building up next to one unit after another.  I was proud of him.  He was proud of himself and except for that little push I gave him, was completely independent while doing it.  Success is when math grades go up and a kid still says he likes math.  Success is when he's excited about gathering the token awards on the program.  IXL works!

Well, IXL works when it is used properly.  When I asked Adrian if he used IXL, he said, "Yup! The teacher assigns us units to do each week and we have to do them.  It's part of our homework."  That sounded as if it were working too.  Adrian had slid into a math slump and maybe it was IXL and his teacher that worked with him to get out of it.  He's gone back to liking math again.  Another success story.

Then, last Thursday, Nick came home with a page listing 60 specific IXL units.  Some of them were marked as complete.  Good, I thought.  He'll have something to work by for the next month or two.  I was glad Nick had some direction about what was most important. 

No, that wasn't what the paper was for.  Nick was required to have the entire sheet done within fourteen days.  He still needed to do 48 of them!  Somehow, the list danced around the multitude of problems Nick had already completed.  What?

I did a little calculation.  If Nick worked every day for fourteen days, he'd need to do about three and a half units each day to finish this assignment.  Assuming that most of the units took about twenty minutes to complete, that would mean he'd have almost an extra hour of work every night.  What?  That's a lot to complete.  I figured we could knock out some extra work over the weekend and maybe it wouldn't be too hard to keep up. 
Oh, how wrong I can be.  On Friday, I helped Nick to finish a geometry unit on area. Nick said his teacher had asked them to focus on geometry and he was half done with this one, but struggling.  I decided that despite the emphasis on the kids doing their own work this year, I'd work with Nick.  I started mostly because our computer keys are sticky and I thought I could eliminate some mistakes due to that.  It's a brand new computer and already the keys are sticking.  What is that?  As I saw what was happening, my typing assistance evolved into full-on tutoring and cheerleading.  I promised him I'd never tell him any answers, despite his hopes to that effect.  I showed him a couple of diagrams to help him do his work and explained some things.  I hope it helped.  After an hour and a half on Friday, he finally finished that one unit.  He had the concept down cold, but it took longer than we'd both expected.  It was frustrating for him since he knew he really needed to finish not one, but three units. Still, he really understood the work.  That was good, I thought.  We could catch up with the other two from Friday over the weekend. 

Oh, how wrong I can be.  Again.  Yesterday, we spent 48 minutes and completed 88% of the next geometry section.  By the time we were done, Nick was done.  Oh, he had the idea of it, but he was getting a cold, so I typed for him, tried to ease his way by redirecting him if he made a careless error, and hoped to make it a little bit more fun.  IXL is fun until you have to complete three units a day.  We still have all day Sunday, I thought.  Nick might not be totally finished, but he'll show a good effort.  That will be worth something and maybe one of the next units will be easy and just take ten minutes instead of an hour. 

Wrong again.  Can you hear the buzzer going off behind my head like I'm on a game show and I'm going home with the consolation prize?  Today, Nick and I were bound together in our effort to complete one unit of geometry.  He was really tired of the one he'd done the day before, so I figured we could work on the next one and then go back later and finish off the other.  No problem, right?

Wrong again.  There may be neon lights behind my head now, spelling out the word 'LOSER.'  Today, I totally failed as a tutor, and worse, as a mother.  We worked for three and a half hours with breaks interspersed because I am not totally insane, mostly maybe, but not totally.  By the time I was done, Nick's eyes were closed against the glare of his fourth piece of double-sided scratch paper.  Again, he understood the concept, but in the real IXL world, he'd have gotten half done and gone on to something else to rest his head.  In the real IXL world, he'd have been awarded three or four tokens shaped like dogs or flowers or candy.  In the real IXL world, this assignment would have been spread out over the course of two or three months.  If Nick's teacher had needed him to complete specific sections, he could have made that clear to the kids in September before they randomly picked the wrong sections. 

So now, in the three days we've worked to our new schedule, we've averaged one hour fifty-five minutes each day.  We have completed the last 40% of one unit, 88% of the next, and 94% of a third.  On paper, it looks as if Nick has done one of them.  Just one.  To be able to check off nine units on his list was my initial goal for Nick this weekend and he completed just one. 

This is not the proper use of this wonderful math program.  I'm sorry to say that in the last three days, Nick has begun to groan as if I were taking him to the orthodontist to get his braces tightened when I say the words IXL, how do you solve this problem, and stay with me, here.  If we keep up this pace, he will forever grimace instead of grinning whenever someone asks if he likes math. 

As I was tucking Nick into bed tonight, I told him that he was putting in a great effort toward completing this assignment but I was pretty sure he wasn't going to be able to get it finished.  I told him I was proud of him no matter what happened with it. 

"But Mom," he said, "I'm going to get a zero if I don't get it all done, a zero."

You have got to be kidding me.

Thank you for listening, jb

Here's an important update:  Nick's teacher talked to the class about this assignment.  Apparently, he told everyone that Nick had spent nearly twice as much time working on it over the weekend as anyone else in the class.  Nick was really proud of his effort, thanks to this teacher.  Then, the man announced that he didn't want anyone spending more than thirty minutes each night to complete the work on IXL.  Hallelulah!  Nick's teacher has gone way up in my estimation. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Talking to Strangers

I love Saturdays.  This afternoon, I took Teddy out to the Three Forks Off Leash Dog Park in Snoqualmie after he chewed up the yellow pages in the truck while waiting for us to get back from Nick's snowboard lesson.  He had found some napkins, an old food wrapper, and a bubble wrap envelope too.  Shredded.  All of it.  The thick book of yellow pages was the most telling.  He had never eaten a book before. 

Don't worry.  He didn't actually eat it.  He just tore it into little bits, a message really, in case we couldn't see his displeasure at our languid return to the truck.  The yellow pages was years out of date.  He'd had to crawl under the seat and pull it out.  I'd even forgotten it was there.  Who even uses three-dimensional phone books anymore anyway?  I just use my iPhone. 

Have I ever told you how much I love my iPhone?  I sometimes use it as a phone, but more often, I text, check definitions for Scrabble on Safari, play Scrabble, Facebook, check Weather Channel weather by location so I can see what the weather is like at the pass, Google Earth for places I want to see before I die, check bids on eBay, get directions, monitor my walks on Runkeeper, monitor my sleep on Zeo, and entertain my boys with a myriad of free games.  Information is at my fingertips.  Did you know that you can see Egypt's pyramids from the satellite images on Google Earth?  Maybe I should look for Notre Dame too (not the university - I've visited the university).  So you see how I could forget that there is a thick yellow pages book under my front seat?  I hadn't needed it in quite a while. 

The remaining job of those yellow pages in this incarnation (I did recycle it) was to soothe a restless puppy.  Sometimes I forget that Teddy is still a pup.  He's a good-natured dog.  He likes his walks, but he can skip a day here and there if he had a decent walk the day before.  He likes to play tug of war and expends some energy that way, though he gets upset if we try to play in the kitchen.  The floor in the kitchen is vinyl and he can't get a good grip with his feet.  The way he shuffles his back legs and whines, sounding very much like an eleven-year-old boy is very funny.  Sometimes, when we're behind with walks, we throw his toys down the stairs for him to retrieve.  Those are only temporary solutions to his excess energy.  Even the cats get to looking at me, asking silently if I'll take him away and later bring home the much quieter, more tired dog that they prefer. 

So today, since I was tired and he was still energetic after shredding everything but my backpack in the truck, I took him to the off-leash dog park.  It was perfect.  The late afternoon sun was golden across new grass, only leaving us momentarily behind dark clouds to remind me to look up at the sky.  I quickly joined a crowd of people standing in the middle of the field.  This park doesn't encourage you to walk the way Marymoor does with its network of trails.  This park is simply a large green field of grass with Mt Si as a backdrop.  People tend to stand in a row facing the mountain.  By the time I got there, it was already turning a dusty purple in the light.  Why do mountains turn purple at sunset?  It doesn't seem to matter what they're covered with, rock or green trees, they still do that. 

I had joined a friendly group, a woman with an Australian Kelpie mix, a couple with a sweet Pit Bull, another couple with a four-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog, a woman with a Shar Pei mutt with no wrinkles, and another couple with a pair of herding mutts that looked like littermates.  The dogs took just minutes to size up us newcomers, Teddy being perceived as no threat at all, but the herding mutts forming a pack against the existing one for a bit until they ironed out who was alpha.  The Pit Bull just wanted cookies from my pocket.  She was already worn out from being there a while.  The Mountain dog pup wanted to be petted, but Teddy swooped past to make sure she knew I was his person and she shouldn't get too attached.  There was no aggression, just a shoulder bump and a loop around.  The Kelpie didn't like when one of the men ran and he backed up against his owner barked his protection orders.   His owner said that she this dog had been abused and he was making great strides.  Oh, the damage that people sometimes do.  It's so hard to undo.  I knew what she meant because I used to have a cat who squatted and peed in fear when you jangled your keys or picked up a rolled newspaper. 

I love that I can join a group of total strangers and begin and then end a relaxed conversation.  Like Teddy, I seemed to fit right in, though some of the other people seemed to know each other.  Later, I found out that they only know each other though their dogs. Everyone was relaxed and having fun.  Even the guy who'd been barked at was feinting a run now and then just to press the Kelpie's buttons, but not too much.  We all laughed as we watched the dogs race and tumble and dodge.
When everyone left, I wasn't ready to go, but somehow didn't want to be left standing there by myself, though I could have used some time to actually walk.  Teddy was tired out and, though I'd gotten little exercise, so was I.  As I walked back to the car, I noticed streaks of clouds that washed over my head in what looked like rows of waves.  They were fanned out from the perception of perspective.  If someone had painted a picture like this, it would have felt contrived, like the ivy-covered cottages of Kincaid, a little too sweet.  But this was my own sky, not a photo or a painting.  I stood, after everyone had left, and waited for the pink to turn to gray, before I left to come home.  Teddy waited patiently at my side, his look telling me we could go since all of his friends had gone. 

When I walked in the door, the cats were happy to see I'd transformed the dog yet again.  It was a good Saturday. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Way We Talked

I had lunch with Mike today.  I liked picking him up from work and going with him to a peaceful sushi restaurant I hadn't visited for quite a while.  There's a waitress at this place who doesn't like children and makes them feel particularly uncomfortable even if they haven't made any noise or messes.  We don't bring Nick here even though he'd love the atmosphere and the beautiful food.  Yet, I am still willing to come here because the sushi is fresh and artful and the atmosphere is tranquil.  It's hard to give up a good restaurant after fifteen years of patronage because one old waitress is rude to your child, but you notice that I'm not exactly recommending it, don't you?

Mike eats so fast, I though he needed to rush back to work.  He didn't.  Yet, it seems as though we barely had time to catch up with the things he needed to hear, let alone talk about whatever came up.  I'd signed Nick and Adrian up for swim lessons starting in mid-May.  They'll be busy, but they needed to improve their skills before Boy Scout camp at Parsons in early July.

There were issues with the new parents and the Boy Scout troop.  They weren't getting the information they needed to prepare for the first camp out.  Plus, we needed to figure out what we were doing for the summer so we could coordinate with Adrian's parents.  Mike wants us to take a real vacation. That's a good thing. We could all use a real vacation, but we need to make sure Adrian has a place to go during the days while we're gone.   Shoot, we needed to figure out what we were doing tonight so we could coordinate with them.  The strange thing about Adrian's family and ours is that we are neighbors, but we're more like family since Adrian has become a family member.  They know more about us than I'd ever imagine and we know more about them than we want to know sometimes.  It really is a strange arrangement, but it works for us.  Why have just one boy when you can have one and a half instead? 

Wow!  I thought I'd forgotten what Mike and I talked about.  It's funny how the details come back.

I remember watching him use his chopsticks on the fat noodles in his soup.  Adept, I thought.  I love that my husband is comfortable using chopsticks.  I wasn't as graceful when I transferred his salad to my bento box and a bit of salad dressing dripped down the side.  He didn't seem to mind.  I always eat his salads.  I gave him my shrimp tempura. 

We were easy together.  That sometimes happens after twenty-five years.  Even after all this time, I like being across a table from him.  He usually chooses a seat to look out over the room.  I usually face the window.  Mike can still make me a little nervous.  I don't know why that is.  I caught myself being happy that I hadn't spilled anything on my shirt. I know he loves me, but having that rare lunch together helps.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Buddy's Life Beyond the Box

My kitty is pawing at my leg.  He wants me to sit in the recliner with a pillow on my lap so he can luxuriate there.  Two-handed petting will ensue.  He'll get annoyed and jump down if I read, bumping my book a couple of times first to make his point.  Then, he'll wait a bit and jump back up and crawl into the space between my face and the book.  It's hard to read that way, but he doesn't mind. 

This is Buddy, the guy who was never supposed to survive beyond last September.  We finally threw out Buddy's old cardboard box that he loved, the one that labeled him a former homeless kitty, the one that sagged until it was flat in the middle and smelled a little like a damp book.  Buddy didn't like that it got flat in the middle and looked at me as if it was my fault it had happened.  It's kind of like the way I blame my dryer for shrinking all of my pants when it is clearly not to blame.  Worse yet, Teddy, the puppy, thought that the box was a toy and chewed on it a bit, making the whole thing even more pathetic.  Buddy really didn't like that and thwapped the poor guy on the head a few times to elucidate his opinion.  I have hard enough time making my living room a place of comfort and warmth without a saggy, chewed up box lying at one end of it, so, after checking with Mike to make sure I wasn't being cruel, I recycled it.  Good riddance, too. 
Buddy has taken up residence in a plastic tray I used to use to organize papers, a portable in-box, if you will.  I liked my in-box.  Buddy liked it more and now it's deep under the coffee table with a blanket folded up in it for extra comfort.  I'd say it's a big step up from cardboard to plastic and fleece.  The next thing you know, Buddy will be asking for a sparkling Perrier on ice and the duck and pea combo for lunch.  Oh, right.  He already eats duck and peas for every meal, Hill's prescription d/d diet.  It really did help with the puking, but really?  There's a reason this gato has not kicked the bucket yet.  He's in heaven right here. 

I love that I can supply a little bit of heaven right here in my tatty little living room.

Thank you for listening, jb 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Neolithic Eleven-Year-Old Boys

Oh man, I hate having to yell at Nick to get him going to bed.  How difficult does it have to be?  H does this every night.  Right.  It's a cliche.  A worn out cliche. 

So imagine it's the middle ages.  The farrier has an eleven-year-old apprentice.  Does his wife battle with the boy to get him to go to bed? No.  They work the boy so hard he is glad to be sleeping whenever he's allowed.  Is that really what happened back then?  Or did the farrier and his wife love the boy and fight with him the way parents would have so that they could all be up at the crack of dawn making breakfast and shoeing the horses?  Wouldn't you like to know the answer to that? 

What about when they were building Stonehenge?  The people are tired.  They live eight people to a hut.  They've rolled logs under a Sarsen stones three miles each day for seven days and need to dig a deep hole and let the stone fall into place, hopefully without killing anyone tomorrow.  Sleep deprivation probably didn't go well with engineering huge stones into position.  So would the eleven-year-old boys keep up the people in his hut at night then?  How did the tired old men and women deal with all of that energy, the boy's desire to stay up late to discuss the ins and outs of placing that stone? 

What about when the tribe was crossing the land bridge into Alaska from Russia?  The weather is unpredictable.  The tribe is lost.  They can't go back because there are too many predators and enemies behind them.  They have no idea what lies ahead or how long this land bridge is.  The chief' has an eleven-year-old boy, and he wants the boy to go to sleep so he can stay up with the rest of the elders and discuss his fears.  He wouldn't want the boy to think he didn't have a clue how they would survive if winter came and they were still on this narrow land bridge.  Will he be able to lead his people to safety?  The old men doesn't want to stay up half the night waiting for the boy to sleep.  They look forward to going to bed themselves.  Did they have to take away privileges to get the boy to go?  Did they have to tell him he wouldn't be allowed to hunt with the men if he dilly-dallied on his way to bed? 

And did boys back then wake up their mothers in the middle of the night with 'Mom, I'm thirsty.  Can you hand me the antelope bladder so I can get a drink?'

I just wonder. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, April 9, 2012

In the Sunshine

Today was incredibly sunny.  If I were a teacher, I'd have brought the class out to a damp grassy spot on the playground and given a lesson there.  There is reason why I am not a teacher.  That kind of thinking would have backfired on me.  I would have gotten distracted, maybe taking the kids to look at buds on the trees that were about to bloom, maybe leaning back and looking for shapes in the clouds.  This would have given implicit permission and the kids would have become distracted as well, staring off into space, rolling around and talking when when they should have been listening.  Then I'd have become disgusted as I dragged them back into the relatively dark classroom with a glum look on my face and a bad attitude all around.  Good thing I'm not a teacher.
 I should have walked Teddy today, but I ended up hanging around on the back deck too long while Teddy sniffed around.  I wanted to stay home today, to noodle around back there, making it nice for sitting in the sun with a book, sweeping steps, pulling small nettles on the hillside, piling rocks in nice places.  Then, suddenly, I didn't have enough time to walk before heading off to school. 

I did take one of my reading buddies outside this afternoon.   Oh, I pretended to work.  He read to me and I let it wash over me, the words, the sun, the breeze lifting my hair.  I almost forgot to ask him any questions.  I'm supposed to work on reading comprehension.   That means that I need to ask questions like, 'Did anything like that ever happen to you?' or 'What do you think is going to happen next?'  I wonder if my guy knows that I'm not just trying to engage him in conversation? We had a good time, reading outside.
I was talking to another mom after school.  It was funny how she kept referring to a day two weeks ago when we'd had great weather and I knew just which day she meant. 

"It's funny, you know, how we live here long enough in the rain and the gloom and we can remember a day more than two weeks ago just because the weather was nice that day," she said.  I knew what she meant.  I like that too. I didn't tell her that I also like the rainy days, the days when the clouds bump along the ridges, sometimes nestling into a ridge or behind some trees.  I don't mind walking in the rain as long as I have a good raincoat. 

But if you'd asked me as I sat on my back deck, I'd have said that today was perfect.  The sky was robins-egg blue and clear of clouds.  The birds were cheerful even though the feeder has stood empty for three or four weeks.  Teddy had sniffed around, but didn't go out of sight.  He's such a good dog, even when he doesn't get his walk sometimes.  Both cats stood at the screen door sniffing the air and looking at him as if he'd been the only kid in the car to get an ice cream cone.  Well, they'd been picking on him, so maybe that was how it was supposed to be.  Life isn't always fair, but I can try to even things out a bit, letting him come outside with me because he's such a good companion. 

I noticed last Saturday, when we went down to see the Snoqualmie Falls after the Easter egg hunt, that the hiking came easier for me now that I'm doing it on a regular basis.  I like that.  My breath, my muscle movement all came easier.  I love my two kitties, but it's good to have a dog that needs walking but doesn't mind basking in the sunshine on the back deck now and then too. 

Thank you for listening, jb

'The Passage' by Justin Cronin

Spring Break is over. 

Tomorrow, I'm going back to being on my own to catch up here at home.  My house is a mess.  We had a lot of fun though.  There were eggs galore this weekend, with a total of three Easter egg hunts for me, one to watch, one to create, and one for hunting.  It's a shame that Nick missed the last one because the day was sunny and I had fun wandering all over a couple of acres to find eggs with Teddy in tow. 

I just don't look forward to the quiet that's coming. 

I will have time to listen to my audio book, 'The Passage' by Justin Cronin.  This one's a whopper!  Of 29 disks, I'm only listening to disk four so far.  Can I go through that much material by April 20th, when it's due?  I don't know. 

I've also wondered whether I should keep listening to it.  Oh, it's a good book.  Don't get me wrong.  It's a good book that's going to scare the daylights out of me when it comes to it.  I haven't even gotten to the part where the world falls apart in the story yet.  I know it's going to scare me, yet if I follow too far into the story, it's more frightening for me if I don't finish it.  There it is, this story hung in my brain, stuck at the torturous part, like a record stuck in a groove on a turntable.  Are you even old enough to remember that?  In college, my roommate had a record, 'Stuck in the Middle With You,' that went around and around repeating 'stuck in the middle, stuck in the middle, stuck in the middle' and it was creepy all by itself.  It's worse with a frightening book, like an earworm, those songs that get stuck in your head, only a story in which the images I've created don't resolve because I don't know the end of the story.  My imagination can go down a few dark alleyways, trying to resolve it on it's own, but inevitably, it comes back to that place where I left off in the story.  Yet the author, using his characters, the writing, the setting, is drawing me in.  Should I keep reading? 

The story is about a little girl who is drawn into a government experiment where she never should have been in the first place.  It's always the government, trying to create the perfect soldier or some other clandestine activity, that begins these things, isn't it?  Unfortunately, as I read, I'm imagining a creature similar to the ones in the movie 'I Am Legend' with Will Smith.  I have to tell you that I was terrified by that movie.  I wouldn't take the garbage out after dark for a year.  I know, it's lame, but here's how I've figured out this irrational fear.  People can be terrifying and the scary near-humans in 'I Am Legend' are a metaphor for that.  Almost every day, I walk through country where there are bears, cougar, and coyote.  At dusk, when I'm walking alone with Teddy, people warn me to watch out for them.  I'm not afraid of these animals, though I have a healthy respect for their power and wildness.  If I follow their rules, I'll probably never even see them, let alone be bothered by them. 

No, it isn't animals, but people that scare me.  Not all people either.  Most people are easy, just going about their lives like the rest of us.   Every day, I talk with people at Nick's school, at the grocery store, and at the library.  I love these ordinary people who, like me, are just trying to be happy and find meaning in their lives.  Yet, there is that 1%, the ones who live among us who quietly wreak their havoc on others, usually their own families.  I have known some of those people.  Plus, groups of people can do horrendous things as well.  You don't need me to cite examples in history, or even in contemporary events.  They are everywhere.  That fear of mine, the one that looks irrational, is based on my encounters with these true monsters, the ones with normal-looking faces, but souls that are lunging with teeth bared, my blood dripping from their jaws.  That's why it's going to be hard to finish reading this well-written book.  I think I'll have to do it, to imagine myself beside this girl, fighting back. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, April 8, 2012

An Easter Egg for Buddha

I just sorted through about a hundred pair of plastic egg halves. I love the person who thought it might be nice to keep each half together with a narrow band of plastic. I hate the ones whose halves won't go together no matter how hard I press, and the ones that fall open. I tried to throw out all the unmated halves and pairs that were too much trouble.

Then, I packed the eggs full of quarters, candy, some dollars, and a couple of five dollar bills. It seems like a sad metaphor, cash in the Easter eggs, but I gave up trying to find tiny toys for an eleven-year-old boy. Most iPods and video games don't quite fit in a plastic egg. Last year, it felt like a waste spending $35 on junk Nick didn't like, just because it fit into the eggs. Okay, last year, Michael's sold nesting oversized eggs that were beautiful, but this year, after wrestling with the yellow one that was just the right size, I folded up the GameStop card I got for Nick and put it into the pink one. Yes, the bright pink one. I guarantee that tomorrow Nick won't be complaining that I did that, or rather the Easter Bunny did that, and damaged his manly demeanor.

This boy still wants to believe in the magic too, even though I know that he knows that I'm up at night doing it all after he goes to sleep. Why ruin it for him. All that doesn't seem to damage his manly demeanor either.

I kind of had fun after I cleaned up the bits of dried grass I found in some of the eggs and finished filling them. I hid most of those eggs around the house. I hid them with in the bookshelf, on the tea light stands, in mugs. I hid some on the cat tree, the money ones so the candy wouldn't get gross. I hid eggs with the video games, in my basket of ponderosa pine cones, under the weight machine. I hid eggs behind picture frames, under Nick's book, and even in his shoe. Again, I made sure the shoe egg was cash and not candy. I even hid an egg under Nick's pillow as he slept. Now that was a feat.

The best place I hid an Easter egg was next to Buddha's belly on the mantlepiece. Now, that's a mixed metaphor, isn't it? Buddha's Easter Egg. I don't mind. Do you?

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Sweet Hour of Peace

Nick and Adrian took snowboard lessons today.  Thankfully, the instructors took over when the boys started asking me questions, trying to rpe me into tying their boots.  It was easy to answer them.

"Oh, I don't have any idea," I said.  "I've never been snowboarding."  It's true.  I left Adrian with boots that weren't laced up tight enough.  Okay, I could have figured out how to manage the newfangled wire tighteners on the boots, but why?  I'm not going to be with them half-way up the mountain to help them get the things adjusted the right way. 

"I can't do it with my gloves on," he said.

"Well, then take your gloves off," I said.  It seemed heartless.  I just don't want them asking me to do things for them that they should, for safety's sake, do for themselves.   Okay, I'll admit that wasn't the only reason.  Self-reliance is a good word for eleven-year-old boys who are both only children.  No, that was not my only reason either.  I get tired. 

I get tired of hauling junk, toys, costumes, rocks, that I didn't carry out of the car, but magically end up in my hands when they get too heavy.  I get tired of being the garbage receptacle when something needs to be thrown out.  I have actually seen Nick take more steps to reach me with garbage than he would have to reach the garbage can. That is so not going to happen.  I get tired of tying boots, packing snacks, attaching lift tickets, and fixing snagged zippers.  When I do these things for them, do they learn?  I don't think so.  But the sad fact is that I simply get tired of fixing the world for them.  I'm beginning to feel the lowly servant, the valet, the doorman, the slave.  Plus, there is attitude in an eleven-year-old that is completely missing in a toddler.  Oh, you will not do that to me.  No you won't.  My son is the one who uses attitude with me, not Adrian, though I have seen him do it to his own mom.

I used to do all of these things automatically.  There's nothing worse than letting a four-year-old hold onto the wrapper from an orange popsicle in the back of your car until he can find a garbage can to throw it away.  Orange dribbles stains do not wipe off easily from gray leather seats and years later, that stickiness is still in the cracks where you have to put your hand to find the lost Lego part that just fell off and disappeared.  You're not going to make a toddler carry all those diapers, wipes, snacks, and warm clothing either.  Toddlers are a way off from tying their own shoes, or even putting them on the right feet.

Yet, something happened along the way. 

The boys grew up, and, when things get complicated, they still expect me to tie their shoes, carry the icky garbage, and haul their gear when they pack too much.  Thankfully, the diapers have gone away. 

I try to remember that boys used to go off to apprentice when they were seven or eight.  That might not be a bad idea, at least for a few days so I have time to go see the Gauguin exhibit without once hearing anyone yell 'Mom' as if I'm in trouble.  I'm leaning toward Nick going on more Boy Scout camp outs on his own as well.  Oh, I love camping, but I could use some quiet time, some time for which I am not in demand.  Is that the universal complaint of mothers whose chicks are growing too big for the nest? 

I wanted to hug the snowboard instructor who came up to me and firmly told me I could go relax, then got Adrian on his butt with his boots off to adjust them.  I watched for a minute.  He didn't tighten that wire for him.  He took his own boot off and showed him how to adjust the wire.  (Adrian knew how to adjust the wire.)  Then I saw Adrian take off his gloves and put his boot back on, tighten the wire, and tie the 'complicated' laces.  He wasn't too happy about it.  Ha!  Then I went off to find an espresso and a book with my name on it.

Oh, I could see them vaguely from where I sat and I casually walked in the right direction when my sweet hour of peace was up.  The boys were already sliding down the snowy hill toward me, peeling off extra layers of clothes after their effort.  I love spring skiing for that.  (I am a cross-country skier by nature.)

They had grins across their faces. 

"We're going on the lifts for our next lesson!" Adrian said.  Now, aren't you glad you can adjust your boots all by yourself when you make it up there?  I didn't say it.  I just grinned back at them.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wearing a Smile

I took Nick to the store to shop for clothes today.  I hate the thought of shopping, but I have to admit that we had fun.   In the afternoon, we walked with Nick's friends, their mom, and our dogs before I had to drop Nick off at karate.  Somehow, we ended up with spare time in between.  I was so relieved to be done with that walk early, since Nick's friends were spitting on each other and throwing punches right and left.  And these were girls!  Thankfully, Nick was smart enough not to join in.  After it was over, I was feeling generous toward my well-behaved boy.  Plus, he needed summer clothes.

I knew it was a bit past time for us to get him new clothes, but sometimes I forget how much more goes into choosing clothes, even for a boy.  He wanted to shop at Fred Meyer, so we picked up salads and burritos at Taco Time and headed in that direction. 

Once we started, I kept gravitating toward the smaller sizes.  Oh, I knew what the numbers were, but the clothes in his size looked way too big.  He was excited when I said okay to a handful of shorts and a half a dozen T-shirts he liked before heading to the fitting room.  On his way in, he told me he wanted "one of those hats." 

"Nope, you pick clothes first and we'll look at a hat if we have time or money left over when we're done,"  I said.  He got to work.  I think of it as work anyway, but he had kind of a glow in his eyes.  Even the guy who unlocked the fitting room door mentioned it, a boy who wanted to try on clothes.  Wow!  Well, Nick wouldn't like it half so well if we shopped a lot and these days, a bunch of his T-shirts are old rejects of mine.  Oh, the Purdue football T-shirt isn't so bad, but I've also given him my shirts from Cub Scout camp.  He's a Boy Scout now, though he hasn't complained openly.  He was down to two pair of shorts, and I knew he needed more socks.  I could have gotten the socks without any fanfare, but he needed to try on the pants.

After a few minutes in the room, he flung the door open with a huge grin on his face.  That was all I needed to be convinced.  "Okay!" I said. "Put those in the definite yes pile."  And from there, he put two more pair of shorts and five more shirts into that yes pile.  I made him drop two shirts that he'd liked, but I can always buy them later after looking through his drawer at those sad looking T-shirts. 

"Here, try this on," I said and dropped the fedora he'd liked over the top of the door into the changing room.  That was the icing on the cake.  He came out wearing Union Bay shorts in black and gray camo, a black Under Armour muscle shirt, and the DPG straw fedora with black trim.  I couldn't help but laugh at the way he touched the brim of his hat and pointed his index fingers at me as if they were guns. 

"I'm going to be a totally different guy from now on," he said.  At first, that made me a little sad, but I then I remembered the feeling I had at his age when I felt that I could reinvent myself with clothes that looked good on me and gave me confidence. 

"Oh honey, don't become a totally different person, okay?" I said.  " I like the guy you are right now."  Nick wanted to wear his new clothes out of the store, but since our sales guy had disappeared, I had to say no.  I don't want him to look like the guy trying to walk out of the store in clothes he didn't pay for.  I did let him peel off his old Indiana University T-shirt and put on the black muscle shirt in the car.  The next thing will be for him to build up those muscles more, but we'll get to that soon enough.  The grin he wore for the next couple hours was good looking enough for me.

Thank you for listening, jb 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rainy Day iPhone Games

I didn't do much today.  It was raining and I felt a cold coming on, so I didn't take Nick anywhere.  This morning, I napped on the recliner while he watched television.  Some spring break.  This afternoon, I caught up on my Words with Friends game on my iPhone. 

Is that game good for my brain?

I hope so, since I'm playing it.  If you don't know about Words with Friends, think Scrabble.  Oh, I play Scrabble with a friend on my iPhone too.  It's not to hard to compare the games.  Generally, I like the game of Scrabble is better, but the sound-effects and human factors for Words with Friends is more comfortable. 

I used to be a technical writer for folks too cheap to hire a human factors engineer.  While I was reviewing the designs to begin writing about them, I'd do the human factors too, since I tended to look at how their designs worked the way a layman would.  Oh, I could talk the engineering talk since I'd graduated from college in engineering and worked as one for six years before I switched to writing.  Here's the thing - I was a good engineer, but it didn't make me happy, so I was never going to be brilliant doing it.  I never got the deep satisfaction in it that I did when I was writing. 

So there I was, with an engineer's and also a layman's perspective.  I could tell you that, though you'd included all of the required information on the screen of the flight navigation system, the pilot wouldn't see one critical piece of information since there were too many facts to discern in one crowded space.  I could tell you that you'd buried a feature so deep in the system, it seemed not to exist at all.   I could tell you that the general public would never understand the words you were using on the screen and you'd better find a simpler way to say it.  It was fun.  Sometimes they actually took my advice.  So now, eleven years after I quit working in the field, I still find myself critiquing a web design or a game. 

I like the shuffle noise that Words with Friends makes.  I like that I can look to see who is playing from Facebook, but not have to fill my Facebook posts with the times I won, or worse, lost.  I like the colors on the page that shows whose turn it is and somehow, it seems to take less time to switch between games.  I like the shape of the rounded yellow tiles.  Still, I have a little trouble placing those tiles onto the bottom row sometimes and I don't like how the they shift over by themselves on occasion.  I never have that problem with Scrabble.  I love Scrabble's two letter word list.  I love having the smiling face of the teacher and being able to put her to sleep when I'm playing a simpler game with Nick. 

I wonder, though, if it's quite fair that Words with Friends took the idea for Scrabble so blatantly.  I mean, really!  It's the same game, though the scores tend to be higher for Words with Friends.  Is that part of the joy of it, that we can easily score in the 300s?  I imagine so. 

I feel a little sorry for the Scrabble folks.  I hope they're getting royalties enough that they don't notice that I'm playing their game with more people under a different name. 

Here's what I don't like about either game:  the words.   Neither game will take words such as 'texting.'  Okay, we all know what I'm doing when I am texting you.  It may be a new word, but it is indeed a word.  I can't think of my other examples right now, but you know what they are.  My friend, Max, said that she was mad they wouldn't accept 'bantha.'  Well, it took me a little while to figure that one out.  It was some creature from Star Wars.  Yes, 'bantha' should be accepted if 'qatar' is.  I mean really, I had to look that up, more than once.  And what the heck is a 'xo' or a 'na?'  I used to play alone, basically against the teacher that Scrabble provided, and I could not believe the words that it used.  No person I ever spoke to has used the words 'hafiz' or 'vespid' in conversation. 

Here's my advice to both game companies - make it real, folks, make it real. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, April 2, 2012

Loving Kindness

There was a dog at the dog park the other day that I admired and loved immediately.  She was overweight and needed more exercise.  She had a meaty head and was a breed I've never been really connected with, a Rottweiler.  Oh, I don't mind Rottweilers, but I just don't usually identify with them.  I truly believe the saying that people tend to look like their dogs.  If that's true, then I look like a pit bull and Labrador mix.  That's the dog that I picked over twenty years ago and that type of dog will still bring a tear to my eyes.  I'm gradually converting to loving a sweet white dog these days.  Teddy still doesn't quite fit the role, but he's growing into my heart the way I knew any dog would that lived in my house for more than a month or two.  Teddy is dorky, something like one of those tall, awkward boys in high school who will never be quite popular, who will always study too hard for tests, who will blush talking to a girl in the hallway, and who will be nice to everyone.  I think Teddy's personality is a good influence on our family.  This Rottweiler I met at the park was a good influence too, even after the short time that I was with her.

What I loved about this dog was the calm that emanated from her as I petted her.  It was as if the space around her was calming as well and got into my hands.  I liked that she sat on my foot and leaned into me and spread that feeling into my bones as I talked to her.  How can it be that a dog can have such a gift? 

I met one woman in my lifetime that also had that gift, just one.  When I was 23 years old, I had to go to the hospital because I couldn't walk.  I'd been having trouble with my back and just didn't get any help for it from the doctors I'd visited.  Eventually, I could stand, but I couldn't move my legs to walk, so I went to the emergency room.  They checked me in and immediately put me into traction.  It was awful.  I was prescribed strong pain meds, so much so that I was hallucinating a bit, but at night, everything hurt worse and being out of it made it frightening as well.  My family lived four states away and somehow I managed to sound cheerful with them on the phone during the days.  So I languished alone that way in the hospital for ten days and nights before I finally had surgery.  At night, I wanted to sing to myself for comfort, but I kept quiet out of respect for my roommate. 

The night hours were long.  Every night, there was a nurse who came in to give me more pain medication and sometimes to change my sheets.  She walked into the room in the dark, so I could only see that she was a tall black woman and nothing more.  I remember looking at the palms of her large hands and hearing her crooning voice tell me I needed to take these pills, that they would make me feel better.  She exuded this same calm that the Rottweiler had, along with a gift for loving care.  I think one night during that hospital stay, I asked if she was an angel because I can still remember her rumbling laughter.  Her hands were warm and gentle as she first rolled me one way to change my sheets, then rolled me the other, then tucked me in like I was her own beloved child.  More than once during those hard nights, and even afterward, I wished that she had been my mother. 

Every time I think of this woman now, someone I never even saw with my own eyes, I bless her, her children, and their children.  I hope she has lots of great-grandchildren and that even a few of them learned her gift of loving care.  The world will be a better place if they did. 

I thought of my angel nurse when I met this Rottweiler at the park and felt that calm emanating from her as well.  They had the same feeling surrounding them, that of deep patience and love.  Funny, how a person can get this feeling from a dog.  I hope to see her at the park again soon. 

Thank you for listening, jb